Dennis Okada, interviewed by Rebeca Salas, 07 November 2016

Dennis Okada, interviewed by Rebeca Salas, 07 November 2016

Abstract
Dennis Okada shares his family history and parts of his own life story. He shares his father’s migration story to Canada from Hiroshima. Away from his family in Canada, his father, Raeso, made a life for himself as a child, starting as a houseboy in West Vancouver. When the war broke out, Raeso was sent to a logging camp. He thus logged in the Arrow Lakes area and laboured as a builder of some internment camps, such as Lemon Creek and New Denver. After the war ended, Raeso returned to the coast and eventually found a position at C T Takahashi in Vancouver. Dennis’ mother, Kazuko, is Canadian born but was sent to Hakone, Japan during the war time years for schooling. Dennis explains that his grandparents owned a grocery store in Vancouver at Davie and Seymour and were interned in Vernon, BC during the war. Dennis shares that his grandfather was a Shrimp Fisherman and lost his boat, while his grandmother was heavily involved in the Japanese Language School (and was for many years afterward). He speaks about family silence regarding the war time years, including how most stories did not come out without direct context of place (for example, New Denver internment camp). DeDennisnnis also explains that his mother eventually shared some stories about her own hardship in Japan during the war, including stories of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. He describes the personalities of his parents and grandparents, including their level of involvement in Japanese traditions. Dennis speaks about his own experiences with racism, segregation, and culture clash over his lifetime. He describes what life was life for him growing up in Vancouver. He shares his memories as a young student, a university student, and his own experience as a teacher of these complicated topics. He also describes what he perceived as his parents’ and grandparent’s feelings towards Redress were, and shares his own opinion on the apology and reparations in the ‘80s. Lastly, Dennis describes his own family’s attachment to and efforts to maintain their Japanese heritage – and, the utmost importance of these efforts.
00:00:00.000
Rebeca Salas (RS)
This is Rebeca Salas with Dennis Okada. We are at his home in Cloverdale on November 7, 2016 for the Landscapes of Injustice Project. Rebeca adjusts positioning of recorder Why don't we start with your family story?
Dennis Okada (DO)
Okay, so my dad came to Canada from Hiroshima in the early '20s with his father because his dad was the second eldest son. So, therefore, he wasn't going to inherit any of the property and that in Japan. So, they came here to start a new life. So, he came with his dad to start a new life and then in the late '20s they got a letter from Japan saying that the eldest son had gone to Brazil on a holiday or to do something and never returned. And they still don't know what ever happened to him. So, because of that they assumed he was dead. My dad's dad went to back to Japan to settle, figure out what was going on, figure out what was happening to the land and everything else. Then in the meantime, the war broke out. So, my dad was stranded here as a teenager and grew up with another family and basically was here by himself as a teenager and worked as a houseboy off of Granville in West Vancouver. He had an uncle that traveled from Japan, who worked for a toy company that sold a lot of stuff, like plush animals. So, he was here on a lot of business trips, so he kept in touch with his uncle. I knew him as Uncle Fred. And my dad told me one time he took him to the United States on a business trip and then he was somehow delayed or something, so he found a job for my dad as a dishwasher and got arrested by immigration. Thrown in jail. And then my grandfather, his uncle, bailed him out and brought him back to Canada, so he was fine that way. Then the war obviously broke out. Dad wasn't interned but he was in logging camps on the island. When he got – because he was unmarried at the time – he was then conscripted to do logging roads, logging, and then he was building the internment homes. So, he built Lemon Creek, New Denver, and a couple other places. He built all those homes in the internment camps. He logged the Arrow Lake area. So, he was up in the New Denver area. And then when the war finished he came back to Vancouver and did some odd jobs here and there. Gardening and things like that. And then he found a job with a Japanese company “C T Takahashi” off Venables and Clarke and he worked there until he retired. They moved eventually to Burnaby by the Villa Hotel, but he worked there until he retired. So, that was a while. My mom was born in Canada in the late '20s and my grandfather decided to send my mom and two of her sisters to Japan for schooling. So, they ended up in Hakone near Kyoto and that's where they were. And that's where they were and then the war broke out and they got stranded in Japan during the war. So, they were in Japan during the war. In the meantime, my mom had two other siblings born here. So, they were in the war until 1948 and then they came back to Canada, but my grandfather was still in Vernon because that's where he was sent. So, they went from...don't know where they lived before that...but they used to own a store off of Davie and Seymour. A grocery store. My grandfather has pictures and I think they're in the archives in Ottawa because he was an avid photographer. I think he was a fisherman at that time. During the war lost his boat, lost the house, and then he was sent to Vernon and that's where he was on a farm, farming land on an orchard or something like that. Then when he came back, my grandfather bought a house by BC Sugar. I can't remember the name of the street but I remember where it is. The house is not there anymore, but he bought that. That's when my mom came. And then my mom and dad met in 1954.
00:05:02.000
00:05:02.000
DO
They were married. Well, they met and then they were married in 1954. Then they moved over by Clarke and Venables and they were there two years and they moved over to East Vancouver off 3100 block, East 19th from 1958 until their death three years ago. So, they were living in the home right until the end. So, that's where we are. My dad was stranded here. He had an older sister in Japan and in the meantime during the war and all that, he had a brother that was born. So, my dad did not go back to Japan until 1970. So, almost forty years he was in Canada. So, when he went back to Japan – and he was the eldest son – he would inherit all the land and property, but because his younger brother lived there with his parents, my dad sort of relinquished most of the property to him or sold it to him there. But, that was the first time he had met his younger brother after forty years. He knew his sister, they were close. So, he went back every three or four years to see his sister. But, him and his brother are strangers. They've only seen each other half a dozen times. I know that when he went back in 1970 for expo his father had passed away in the '60s. His mother was there, but he was very apologetic for leaving him stranded. So, he was able to make amends with that. The last time he went to Japan was in 2008, so when he was almost ninety, eighty-eight. All I know about my grandfather was he was a Shrimp
Fisherman
. Because I don't know my grandparents from Japan, I just know I have cousins in Japan, four of them. That's it. I've met them twice. On my mom's side, my mom has three sisters and a brother. The brother's passed away. The sisters are still alive. My mom was the eldest of all the kids, so she passed away four years ago. My grandfather was a Fisherman. My grandmother taught at the Japanese school for a while, so then she was very heavily involved with the Japanese school. And my grandfather was a Shrimp Fisherman and spoke very good English. Then when their house was expropriated in that area then they moved over to Georgia street over by the PNE and owned a grocery store. They moved and did that for a while and then they moved to East 19th about a block away from my mom and dad. So, my has a sister in Edmonton, a sister that lives three blocks away, a sister that lives in the house that my grandparents have, and then her brother who passed away was a dentist in Maple Ridge. And I think he was one of the original dentists in Haney because he was there in the '60s. Their last name was Miyagawa. That's about all the history I know about. I don't know anything about...I know my grandfather came here in 1899. His dream was to live to a hundred and he lived to almost a hundred-and-one before he passed away. My grandmother passed away at eighty, almost ninety. And my dad passed away at ninety-six, my mom passed away at eighty-seven. And I have a younger brother, two years younger and cousins.
00:10:11.000
00:10:11.000
DO
And because of my mom being and her other two sisters being sent to Japan, they're close. But, there were two other siblings born at that time and so they're not close to them at all. So, my uncle's kids, we're not close to them, but my mom's - the other two sisters and her kids - we know them. We get to see them and we're close to my aunts. We're close to them but we're not close to my uncle and his kids. It's just the way the divide is. It's the same thing in Japan, we know who the kids...know who my cousins are, but that's it. I went to Japanese school, lasted a year smiles. Hated it. Because it's Saturdays laughs and I was a boy. And now I regret it, I wish I had. So, when we had our girls, they went to Japanese school and they went for five, six years. So, they can read and write Japanese but they can't understand if you're speaking. Whereas, I can...I thought I understood it...until I went to Japan and I realized I don't understand it. And that's about the history that I know.
RS
Okay. That's great. Maybe one thing we could do is – we've got a few names in there – but the names of your, especially parents and grandparents, if...
DO
Okay. Raeso Okada was my dad, Kazuko Okada was my mom, my grandfather's George Takachi Miyagawa and my grandmother was Ito Miyagawa, my uncle was Michio or “Mich”, we call him uncle Mich. We have Aunty Yoshiko, Aunty Mitsuko, Aunty “Pat” – she has a Japanese name but we all call her by that name – Toshiko. And I have a brother, Paul.
RS
Okay.
DO
And the cousins, I don't know that. But, my cousins in Japan, no.
RS
One thing I was curious about – when you mentioned about the building of the internment homes – did you ever hear any stories about what that was like, or was it sort of, “I did this”?
DO
Well, you know it was interesting because we went to, in early 2000, we went on a road trip. We went with my mom and dad and the kids and we went to Edmonton. And on the way back I said to my dad, “I want to go to New Denver,” to see what that was all about because he had talked about New Denver. And all the way there he was adamant about not going. He did not want to go. He wouldn't say why, just adamant about not going. And then when we got to the Arrow Lakes and I said no, “No, we're going to do it, I want to see,” and when we took the ferry across the Arrow Lakes then some of the stories came out. Things like when he was in the logging camps across the way, they would...I guess there were hot springs close to them, so he would tell stories about going to hot springs after work and everything else. And then when we got to New Denver a lot of the memories about what it looked like, you know, the map...what things were there. And they have a replica of a house and once we saw that my dad started to tell stories. How he built them, what they were like in the winter, water freezing and things like that, and how cold they were and everything else. A lot of those stories did come out at that time and I think as he started telling some of the stories about himself – like the things that they would do and how they would cut across and things – I think he was glad he took us there. But then, he started to say that he built a lot of these homes. So, it's like, “Wow, okay.” And that's all he basically talked about. He didn't talk much about that stuff. Certain things, but not...just about logging and things like that.
00:15:03.000
00:15:03.000
DO
Nothing too much...I didn't find out that he got arrested until he was in his '70s. It just happened to come out one day. So, he didn't talk a lot about his past. Just stories here and there. I remember one time we were...on Saturdays with friend of his, Jimmy, they would garden. They would cut grass. And when I got older I had to go with them and we used to do a house off Granville and he said, “This is the house” of the people he used to work for as a houseboy. So, it was kind of like, “Oh, okay.” Yeah, he used to work with a guy named Jimmy Shimizu, Shimizu Shota, which was a Fujiya, like one of those stores, right? And then he passed away a while back. My grandfather never talked about it. My grandmother never did. My mom and sisters talk about what happened in the war when they were in Japan. You know, how they starved, what they ate, and things like that. It was my grandmother they lived with. Dennis thinks about which grandmother it was. So, it was my grandmother's mother that came. So, how the war was like. And then in '95 we went to Japan and my mom took us to where she lived. The house is still there, where they lived. And then we went to...no, I guess it would have to be my grandfather's because he went in the late '80s and he was in his eighties and he took tools there and he went to fix the burial site of the ancestors. Because a tree had fallen on that so he wanted to fix that. In his eighties, I remember that. Sorry. So, it had to be that one. And when we went my mom saw some of her old neighbours who were still living there. So, it was kind of neat. So, it was nice to see and she was proud to show us that. And then a lot of the stories came out – what life was like in Japan during the war.
RS
Can you tell me about maybe a few that you recall that you...
DO
Oh, how they had to sell everything in order to get money to have food. How, I think, one of the biggest regrets for all three of them was that they had to quit school because they were all - all three of them - were fairly smart kids and they were doing well and because of the war they had to quit school. I remember them telling me it was rough on them initially because they came from Canada and they didn't speak a lot of Japanese. And then they slowly assimilated into it. But the things of no food, starving a lot, and then the air raids and the bombings that were occurring. And the loss of friends because they were in their early – by the time they came back they were probably in their early twenties, thirties – so the loss of friends they grew up with in school went off to war and never came back. Or some of them - the older ones - who had gone into towns to work in factories were bombed. So, there was a lot of those stories, but most of it was the...my mom always had this thing of eating sweet potatoes and yams. But, she said that's because she grew up on that, so that was her staple food. So, that was something she always had for Christmas and stuff like that. That was her favourite. I think it is with my aunts. Now with my mom being gone, when we get together with my aunts sometimes some stories come out, of my mom and my aunt, too. So, we're trying to get my cousins to get more stories out of my aunt now because they were really close. They only lived three blocks apart from each other, so they were really close. So, they shared a lot. Whereas the one in Edmonton came back, I think, a couple years before they did, or a year.
00:20:22.000
00:20:22.000
RS
Have any stories – you were just mentioning that you were talking to your aunt a little bit – have any stories come up that have really surprised you?
DO
Yeah. About my mom. You know, how she wanted to be a teacher and because of the war that didn't happen. And I always knew she loved math. She was very good at it. So, those stories came out. But, more just some of the friends they had that came to Canada. Some slowly...they're slowly coming out, right? Been kind of nice that way.
RS
And what about your dad? You mentioned that it wasn't until...was it the '70s?
DO
1970 for Expo.
RS
Yeah, that you learned about his arrest. What was that story like for you to hear?
DO
I was like, “Wow, really?” And he was kind of laughing, “Yeah, I got arrested by the Americans.” It was because, I guess, he was taking a job as a dishwasher. Somebody in the restaurant reported him as an illegal alien, so they detained him until my uncle came back through town to pick them up because my uncle did a lot of business road trips in Canada and the United States for a Japanese company. Even prior to the war he did that and then after the war he did that. So, we saw him a couple of times. So, he was very close to him, not to his dad though because of the gap, right? My mom's ties are to Japan, so a lot of her history and a lot of that is in Japan even though she was born here. So, she would go back every two years for high school reunions all the way until she was eighty-five. She would go back. That was her trip, right? Whereas my dad, there were no ties to Japan. Canada was his country. So, when he went he would only go see his sister and when he would go see his sister he would go for a couple of days and go with my mom. And then when his sister passed away – and she was a survivor of Hiroshima – so, when she passed away finally from radiation, I guess, some of just illness and old age, there was no desire to go back to Japan. But he did go back, or he wanted to go back with the grandkids. That was his highlight, to take the grandkids. But it was interesting the last time we went, I asked my uncle where he was during the bomb. And they lived – so there was Hiroshima and there was a mountain - and they lived on the other side of the mountain. And he said when the bomb went off, he was building an air raid bunker on the side of the mountain and all he can remember is looking out and seeing a big, white light. And that's all he saw. Whereas, my mom's...his sister, who was married at the time...her husband's family was in Hiroshima. So, after that they went straight into Hiroshima. So, they were on the radiation checklist because of that. So, they were spared from the bomb because of the mountain. So, they were lucky in that way, or else my dad would have had no family in Japan. But, slowly, when I go I ask, I ask him because that's the only thing I can do. Is ask. And that's the only tie we have to Japan...was that.
00:25:00.000
00:25:00.000
RS
Okay. One thing that interested me – I think it was your grandmother – she taught at the Japanese School. Yeah, what was her involvement?
DO
She was a teacher there. So, she taught Japanese. But, she wasn't there when I was. So, she had to be earlier than that. It had to be maybe, '30s, maybe '30s, early '50s, because I've seen pictures of her and the staff. There are pictures of her, so she's somewhere in there. And I know when she passed, my grandfather set up a scholarship for her in her name. I don't know for how many years, but I remember he did that. So, I know she was heavily involved with the Japanese school. My grandfather wasn't even though he lived close. But he went to all the functions because my grandmother. With their bazaars and things, my grandmother was always involved. And then the family that my dad...when his dad went...his family, this friend of the family, they had a son and I just know him as Mr. Fukui because that's all I knew him as. Him and my dad were very, very close. Now, I think Mr. Fukui's son Frank is involved with the Japanese school now. He's the second treasurer or something he was, I'm not sure. But, Mr. Fukui was involved in the Japanese school, too. I remember going always to the bazaars and always to the Japanese school functions. My grandmother would be working and Mr. Fukui would be working. And I would always remember that. I always remember Mr. Fukui did “Big Go” and my grandmother always sold the food that was in the food bar. So, we would always go and see them and then eat our Don, Edo? Ito?...hmm and all that. And then my grandmother slowly got out of that with age. But Mr. Fukui was heavily involved in it and Mrs. Fukui, too. I think Mrs. Fukui was involved in the Sakura singers. She was one of the founding members of it, so I remember those things. So, my dad and Mr. Fukui were close friends. My dad never got involved with the Japanese school. It wasn't until he retired that he got involved with the Buddhist Church for some reason. I think because Mr. Fukui talked him into doing it, right? So, they went together. But, that's all I remember of my grandmother, of her involvement in that part. Because by the time we came around she was probably already retired. But, I remember we would go Dennis' doorbell rings and recorder pauses.
DO
I do remember that Friday nights or Saturdays when the shrimp boats came in. We'd all go down in behind BC Sugar where all the boats were docked. We would go peel shrimp. And it was the tiny little shrimp. So, my mom, my grandmother, and my other aunt, and my uncle at that time, would all go down and all of us would go peel shrimp for the evening and my grandfather would sell them. But, there was probably not just his boat and his catch. I remember there were a lot of other boats that came in and did it, I think, down there. But that was a real hub because people would always go down there. And at that time I remember going down to the docks and you could fish off the docks and catch and eat what you caught, right? Perches and shiners and crabs. I don't think you can do that anymore, down there. And I know that those docks and those work and those buildings are all gone. They're all gone from there. Everybody used to always go down there all the time. All the Japanese fishermen would have their boat down at that dock. So, I don't know, I know my grandfather was just a shrimper. Shrimp fish. He didn't work, I mean, it was just seasonal. And then from there, we would walk to the Japanese School. And then walk up. Half a block up was Hastings Street and I remember the PNE parade used to always come down there and at Clark Drive, so that's where we always watched the PNE parade there.
00:30:27.000
00:30:27.000
RS
Do you know why your grandfather was never involved in the language school? Was it just...he was busy doing other things?
DO
He was busy with other things, but I think there was a...I remember my mom telling me that my grandmother was well-educated. He wasn't. And I think that had something to do with it. I know my mom telling me these things – because I always asked, “Why is grandma always there, not grandpa?” – and he felt that he wasn't educated enough to be part of that. But, he did eventually. Later he started to get into it, but not as much as my grandmother. My grandmother, because of her affiliation with the Japanese School, was more involved in it, right? Whereas my grandfather wasn't. He was into shrimping and then he ran a grocery store. He was very old school. My grandmother was kind of not. She became more westernized, whereas he was very, very old school. Very old traditional Japanese, right? So, I remember telling my mom telling me that that was an issue with them.
RS
So, one of the focuses of this project is learning about, you know, before, during, and after the war. However, it seems that your grandfather had a fishing boat. So, did you ever learn about what happened when the war broke out, with his...
DO
He lost it. So, I think he was always a shrimp fisherman. But, he also ran his store off of...I know there are pictures of my mom and my aunts in front of the store. That he took pictures of. He was an avid photographer so he took pictures. And I know he sent some into the archives in Ottawa. So, they are there. They are there. So, he was there and he had a shrimp boat and he lost that. I know there were stories he lost a car and I guess the grocery store. And then when he came back, he got back into fishing because when they were in Vernon, they were on an orchard. There are some pictures of my mom in the orchard. So, when they came back from Japan, they were sent straight there. And then they came back to the coast. And then my grandfather went back to shrimp fishing.
RS
Okay. Do you know when they returned?
DO
Between '48, '50, I think. Somewhere in there.
RS
Okay. I imagine orchard life would have been much different than what they were used to.
DO
Yeah. Whereas my aunt and - my mom's youngest sister and brother - that's where they grew up. Whereas the other three were up in the other part.
RS
Okay. Do remember the name of the grocery store that they had?
DO
No. It used to be still there when we were kids because they used to take us there and show us.
RS
It would be interesting to see if there's a photograph of the grocery store and you could see the name and the history.
DO
There is. But I remember my grandfather was very proud that he submitted this picture in Ottawa somewhere. Just like, after we had gone to New Denver, I guess they produced a book on the internment camp and things like that. So, my mom had a copy of the book and we're looking through the pictures and there's – they would talk about baseball, right, and the internment camp – and we're looking through and there's a picture of this guy catching. “That looks like Dad!” And we're looking at it, we're looking at it, and I said whispering to convey confusion. So, I showed it to my dad and he says, “Yeah, that's me!” Didn't even realize it was him that was in the book. So, my mom would stay at my brother's house, but at my parent's house still there's a book. There is a picture of him in a book, so we know that. That it exists. And we were like, “Wow!” He doesn't even remember where it was taken. See, I don't have copies of it, but my aunt, maybe, might have copies of it or knows something about it.
00:35:41.000
00:35:41.000
RS
Okay. So, when your father saw that picture, did any other stories about the things that they used to do come out?
DO
He said...I always knew he liked baseball, so that just confirmed it. He said, “Eh.” They played in the internment camps. In the camps they just played baseball. That's all he said. I know I remember these stories - vague stories - of my grandparents. Hearing about being put into the barns at the PNE. And the stalls. That was their home while they were being processed. I remember that story. . That's about it. I mean, there's memories of Powell Street and all the Japanese stores over there. And then my aunt lives in Edmonton. Her husband's parents lived in one of the rooming houses up top. I remember I went there visiting in there when they were always in town. It was interesting because when I was sixteen I started working on the docks and the fish cannery. And if we had to work overtime we would walk up to Powell Street and there were two or three Japanese restaurants. Now there's none. They're all gone, right? And then in the cannery, it's interesting how jobs were segregated. I was kind of amazed working in there. There were all the Japanese guys gestures to the left and all the Chinese guys gestures to the right. And if you were hired and you were Japanese, you worked this section gestures to an area on the kitchen table. If you were Chinese, you worked that section gestures to another area on the kitchen table.
RS
Which year would this have been?
DO
Okay...'70s? and I worked until I was twenty-three at the cannery myself.
RS
And were the jobs different on each side?
DO
Yeah, so the unloaders – so, when the boats came in they unloaded the fish – were all Japanese. And then when they got brought into the cannery, they were put into holding bins, and then from there they were fed to...and this is where the irony came into it because when they got fed into the machine to be gutted and they headed the fish...I knew them as the “Iron Chinks” and all the Chinese guys worked them. And because we only worked the summers, it was a lot of university guys. So, all us university guys, Japanese guys were here gestures to the left, all the university Chinese guys were here gestures to the right. And we would sit there and go, “Okay so, why is this happening?” Where the Chinese guys were working on the Iron Chinks. And so, they worked there. And there was section over here gestures to an area on the kitchen table, which was the fresh fish. It was the stuff that gets sold to the seafood vendors. So, all the fresh stuff, you know how they're filleted and cleaned and everything? And that was all Japanese. So, it went through there, and Chinks, and then it went to the women who did the final cleaning. And it was a mixture of Japanese and Chinese women.
00:40:00.000
00:40:00.000
DO
But for the men's job, it was all gestures separate. I never questioned...you know, it was like, “Okay, that's the way it is.” And it was interesting because any guys that got hired the following season who were Japanese ended up working these three sections gestures to an area on the kitchen table. Anybody that was new who were Chinese worked those sections gestures to another area. I know on this side gestures left, we were all Japanese foremen. And on this side they were Chinese foremen gestures right. And beyond that you had the whites and all that, right?
RS
I'd be curious to know...to talk to somebody higher up. To know if there were pay differences, if it was just assumed skill, or...
DO
These guys that were in the fresh fish got paid differently from the cannery worker. And it was funny, there was this wall that was here gestures location because that's where it kept the fish from going to this side gestures opposite location. So, everybody along here gestures location got paid the same. But it was just segregation, right? Oh, and there was a couple Chinese guys that worked gestures location...but, they were friends of some of the Japanese guys. Other than that, they were all just...yeah, it's interesting.
RS
Hm, it's really interesting.
DO
I don't know whether or not it's because the foremen at that time spoke very little English? So, it was easier for him to communicate in Japanese? And because he'd been there for so long that it was easier to do it that way. When he retired, though, it didn't change. And, you know, when I quit when I was twenty, I was there almost eight summers. It was the same thing. Nobody said anything. Nobody questioned it. It was just what it was. I know a friend that got hired but he was Chinese...he ended up working on that side gestures to the right. It was like, “Why is he working?” And then this part that was Japanese gestures to an area on the kitchen table, slowly brought in Chinese again, but for the longest time it was strictly Japanese.
RS
Hm, it would be interesting to know why. Or, if maybe it was just...it was for communication? You never know. Communication...you have no idea, right?
DO
Yeah, but it was kind of funny, right?
RS
Funny to think about now, too, hey?
DO
Yeah, it is. It was.
RS
You mentioned that your dad's ties were mostly with Canada. What do you know about what his childhood growing up in Canada was like? Did he tell you much about that?
DO
No. He worked. Because when he came here he didn't go to school because he knew very little English. So, he worked. As soon as his dad left him, he became a houseboy. So, he worked in West Vancouver for a couple of years and then he moved over by Granville and he worked in there as a houseboy. So, he was a cook, he worked in the kitchen, he worked cleaning, gardening. Things like that.
RS
Right. You mentioned that. About how old would he have been when he first came and he fell into these roles, like houseboy.
DO
He was ten.
RS
He was ten, quite young. Hm.
DO
And I think his dad was going to come back or they were going to send for him to go back to Japan. But, it was just the times and that. I don't think he ever held any kind of loss. He understood it was the what it was. I know my mom said a couple of times that there was a little bit of tension between him and his brother because his brother was going to get the land and the property and all that. And my dad was...he said, “Well, that's the way it is.” He wasn't going to fight it or anything. And his brother's been here once. That's all. Just to visit.
00:45:15.000
00:45:15.000
RS
Okay. Later in his life, much later in his life, when he started becoming involved in the Buddhist Church because his friend probably talked him into it, what sorts of ways was he involved? Was there just spending time with people? Or what...
DO
Well, he started playing gateball and he was very good at it. And that was a real passion with him. And then he would go to socials, social seniors. It was twice a week he would go. And then he got involved with the church part of it because he would go, I guess, when they have funeral services and church services there's some prepping to be done. So, he would go and prep behind the scenes and get it all ready. So, he would take his turn doing that. But, it was interesting because in Powell Street Festival the Buddhist church had a booth and he wouldn't work it. He just thought, maybe, there's enough other people or something. But, if they talked him into it he would go and work it a couple of times. Other than he wouldn't. And he had a lot of friends there and he made new friends there, right? Because it was tough for him. His only friend was Mr. Fukui and the rest of his friends were acquaintances here and there, but nothing really...well, then Jimmy, but Jimmy passed away early in his fifties. So, that was another one. So, he made acquaintances there. But, gateball was twice a week and so he was going three times a week. And then tournaments. He really got involved in that because they went to Hawaii and California. They would host it.
RS
Neat.
DO
My mom never did it. I don't know why. My mom didn't get involved, my dad did.
RS
Are there any - I guess these wouldn't be stories that your parents had told you, or your aunts had told you - but is there anything you found out about your family story on your own? Or has everything you've learned been through your family, slowly coming out over time?
DO
Yeah. It would be just that because they weren't...they were really private about things. And they wouldn't...even though we would try and talk to them, “Tell us more.” I think it was very hurtful for them, so they didn't want to talk about it. And there was something, too, because I remember being young...I think my first language is Japanese. Speaking it, hearing it. And then when I hit about three, four, it changed to English. And my mom and dad wanted us to learn English before we learned Japanese. So, we wouldn't be ostracized, right? And I have this funny feeling that they were trying to become more assimilated into the culture. And so, we lost our...for me, we lost the language, but we didn't lose the traditions. Like New Year, Obon...because they always did those things. The Obon was at Brockton Oval. It was a huge thing when it was there. I don't know if people told you about that.
RS
Not much, just a little.
00:49:41.000
00:49:41.000
DO
Brockton Oval used to have an outdoor stadium, right? Stands. We looked forward to it because it was like the Powell Street Festival, but they had – in the inner circle – the dancing. But, it brought the Seattle community up for it. So, it didn't just bring Vancouver, and Richmond, and Steveston. It brought Seattle, too. Because I remember there used to be a Japanese drummer core from the Seattle Buddhist Church. They would come up and then their dancers would come up, so it would be, sometimes, three rings of dancers going around. And then all the food. It was like a big gathering. Yeah, Brockton Oval was huge! I remember it as a kid. It reminds me of the Powell Street Festival, but without the...now the Bon-Odori is done after the Obon Festival and the Church Festival, right? Whereas before it was in conjunction with it and then after they would have the big Obon.
RS
What other kinds of traditions did you...you mentioned that not necessarily the language, but traditions were maintained?
DO
Well, things like New Year's. My mom emphasized Girl's Day because now she had daughters. Granddaughters. My dad...I remember we used to have - for Boy's Day - the big huge display. I remember that. I don't know where it is now. Packed away. So, we had that tradition. Obon. All the bazaars, all these social gatherings. New Year's was a big thing for us. And even now, even for our girls it's a big thing because my mom and dad kept it going. Birthdays, you know like the eightieth birthday, with the eight, is big. And now that they've gone, they still want to do those things. So, it's been kind of nice that way. And interesting enough, we're talking about a family holiday...they want to go back to Japan. They want to go back to the places that their grandparents took them to. They remember parts of it, but now they want really big parts of it. So, it's been kind of nice that way. My mom, every time she went to Japan, she brought them Kimonos. So, for Powell Street Festival they were always dressed up. Those types of things, you know? Japanese food, they just loved it. You don't realize it until they're gone or until you sit back and think, “Wow, we do those things in some ways.”
RS
Hm. Moving back in time, and I'm not sure if this is something you could remember or something that was maybe told to you later, but do you remember what your parents' opinions were of redress? I'm just thinking about that era.
DO
When it was coming up?
RS
Mhm.
DO
They didn't talk about it. I know they applied for it. I think my grandfather was more vocal about it, but he wouldn't say it to me. He would say it to my mom and dad when they got together. But, we were young at the time and we were like, “Oh, yeah.” Didn't care, right? I know when they got it and they got the apology and the letter and the certificate, they displayed it. It was on display. My grandfather was the one who displayed it.
RS
So, they might not have necessarily talked about it openly, but it clearly meant something to them.
DO
Yes. It did come, right?
RS
Right. I'm curious – and you don't have to answer this question, but – you mentioned at the time you didn't really care about it, but now thinking about it, what are your own opinions of the redress and the apology?
00:54:47.000
00:54:47.000
DO
Well, I think it was...there are parts of me that think the redress was great, but I think those people lost more than just...I don't know. I look at what the Americans did...how whatever was taken was kept, right? So, when the war ended, when they came back, they came back and had everything. Whereas here, everything was sold. So, whatever they worked hard at to get, was gone and they had to start over again. So, it's like...yeah, that bothers me. When I read what happened in the States, you know...things changed, demographics changed, the whole...what they owned changed. They could've had more. And I think for some of them, some of them struggled. It was a struggle for them to get back on their feet. And it might have been that for my grandparents. I always assumed it would have. So, I mean, in one retrospect I think I'd say yes, that was a good thing. But, in another, there was some injustice done, too. And I don't know...it's over, it's done with, but a little bit more could have been done. Because I think they lost way more. I mean, the apology was what they were looking for, but I think, financially, they lost a hell of a lot more. I mean, if they would have compensated for them in terms of what they would have lost then, I think, it would have helped. I don't know. Maybe, but maybe not. I mean, if you were going to do the exact same - the Americans did it and then the Canadians did it – if you were going to do that, why didn't you follow the same format? Right? “Yeah, okay, we're going to move them, but we'll keep the property in check for you so that when you back when the war ends, this is still yours.”
RS
Right. Yeah, things were done very differently in Canada.
DO
I mean, the intent was to move them because the Americans did. That's what I think. But, then you changed it to suit you. There was no thinking.
RS
Thank you for sharing your opinion on that. I know it can be hard articulate your feelings.
DO
Yeah, because I look at how much they struggled because it was like being new immigrants again. Even though your parents, your grandparents, or your parents had immigrated forty, fifty years ago and started a life and got past those struggles of coming to a new country...to set everything up and then you get misplaced and you say, “Okay, now you have to start all over again.” Right? And maybe it would have been different if they said, “Okay, we're going to help you get started.” But there was virtually nothing. Instead of selling all of those boats - the fishing boats – keep them and when you come back you have a livelihood. And you have a place to stay then start from scratch. Instead of nothing. You have nothing. So, I think there was some bitterness. But it wasn't said, it was just the hurtfulness inside. And I would think, for some people who had family in the States who may have come over at the same time and may have immigrated to the United States and some would stay here to see the difference, there would have some resentment there.
RS
Were your grandparents – and this might be a hard question to answer because you might not have been given the answer – but, was their plan always to return back to the coast and start again?
01:00:02.000
01:00:02.000
DO
I think my grandfather...yeah. Because I think he only knew how to fish. To be a fisherman. And I think for my grandmother the ties were in the community. And maybe for the two youngest, to come back...because him being the traditionalist, everything doted around my uncle. Nothing doted around the girls, right? So, I know that was a real hard...with the three of them. It was really difficult. They had a real hard time with that. Today they still talk about. Even up until my mom passed away, there was still resentment. It was really hard. Knock at door, conversation briefly pauses and goes off topic
DO
With my mom and dad, there was some talk, but there wasn't a lot. It's only when...you know, like we went to Japan, there was talk. When we went to Hiroshima and we went to the A-Bomb museum and we looked at , “Holy crap.” You start thinking. And then, you know, we go to where my dad grew up and he would start talking a little about that. And then he would always mention all his friends are dead because they left for the war. The friends that he knew, that he remembers as a child, right? And then, he got displaced here. So, depending on the situation it comes out. They weren't apt to just talk about it.
RS
So, would you say that they would have to be in this context, or even the place to actually...or to see maybe a photo of yourself playing baseball...you had to be put back into that context to talk about it?
DO
Yeah. Like with Arrow Lakes, I would never have heard the story have had we not decided to have gone there. Or New Denver. Whereas my mom, when she saw the New Denver home it didn't hit her because I guess when they went to Vernon they were in a house. A farmhouse, right? So, they weren't in that internment camp. I don't know why they weren't put in there.
RS
Were your grandparents or parents able to keep any items with them - special items – throughout this process of internment and coming back?
DO
I don't know. Never talk about it. I know my mom, she said they just had a suitcase because when they came they had nothing in Japan. Everything they sold, right? To buy food. And I know that the last year of the war their grandmother did pass away so they were on their own. But they were in their late teens, so they had to fend for themselves. It was interesting because my aunts told me, but my mom actually went into a factory to work for a couple months before the end of the war, which we never knew. Those stories come out after the fact, but they weren't willing to talk about it. Even though when you try to bring it up - because there were times going to high school, things came up in class – you want to go and get more information. They wouldn't want to divulge that information. You know, now that I've said it, I think I had to do some kind of project on it and I had to talk to my grandfather and I think he did remember telling me about the PNE and stuff like that. But he wouldn't say much on it.
01:05:28.000
01:05:28.000
RS
More general comments probably?
DO
Yeah. Not specific.
RS
Understandable, I think.
DO
Yeah, yeah. It's just tough on them. But I'm glad places like New Denver still have one hut so you can look at it, the map, and things like that.
RS
So, you feel it's quite important to remember?
DO
Yeah. For me, for the girls. They might eventually. And as they are getting older I can start to see some of those things that they want to do. Keep some of the traditions.
RS
Well, we've touch upon it here and there – through stories of you talking to specific family members, for example your grandfather and doing a project in school – but, maybe we can talk a little bit more about your life now? We can talk about maybe where you grew up, maybe where you went to school? We'll start there?
DO
Okay. So, I grew up in East Vancouver. At that time, there were very few Orientals in the school. I think there was one other Japanese guy, who was a friend of mine, and one other Chinese guy, another friend of mine. In my grade. The rest of them were all white. Then you go to high school and then you'd meet, maybe, half a dozen more Japanese and Chinese and the rest were all white. So, in East Vancouver in those days you weren't exposed to a high...there wasn't a high influence of Japanese people, right? And I think for most Japanese people - kids growing up – they were scattered throughout the city. So, unless you lived in the Strathcona area, then, if you lived in that surrounding area then I think you were exposed to more Japanese people. But, I remember some of the acquaintances my parents had, who had their kids, they were scattered all over the place. You had Mr. Fukui's brother's son went to the same high school, but he was four years older than I was. So, he was Japanese and there was – in my grade in high school – I think, four others? And maybe half a dozen Chinese. Whereas now if I go to East Vancouver it's predominantly Oriental. Unless you're in somewhere like Templeton, which is strongly going to be probably Oriental, but maybe more Italian. We had those there. Killarney was starting to be more Oriental, J.O. and all that was starting to go brown. So, we didn't grow up with a lot of Japanese Oriental people. So, you weren't exposed to it, so you grew up being assimilated to the culture. So, the only way you got any of the Japanese culture was through the festivals, or through the Buddhist Church, or the Japanese school. Because I knew my other Japanese friend, there was no Japanese spoken in his household. His dad, probably, was born here because any of the time I talked to him he didn't speak any Japanese. He spoke very good English, but better English than my mom and dad. His mom may have been born in Japan, but I don't know. So, his exposure was even less than mine because they never went to any of the bazaars or the festivals. He didn't celebrate any of the New Year's and stuff like that. I think he lost a lot of it, even though he was Japanese by name. And yet, some of the other ones that I knew...same thing. They weren't, maybe they did or they didn't, but I never saw them at any of the festivals. Unless, they were affiliated with Steveston. But, I don't think so.
01:10:44.000
01:10:44.000
RS
Is that, maybe, part of the reason why you feel - you were saying I get a feeling that there was a push to assimilate – is that, maybe, part of that? The suspicion?
DO
Yeah. I guess, maybe, if we had stayed ro moved into the Strathcona area where there were a lot more Japanese people there, we would probably have more of the language and things like that. Or, if we had moved to Steveston, we would speak more Japanese. Long pause. I met somebody who from Maple Ridge. He said when he grew up, he was the only Oriental in the whole community. And then I went to university, I didn't meet any Japanese people there. Went to SFU. I knew more Chinese people. Because I only have Jim, who's Japanese. The only other acquaintances I had were Chinese. And then the guys I went to high school with. But, all the new friends were mostly Chinese.
RS
What did you study at SFU?
DO
I did a major in Geography and double minor in Archaeology and Outdoor Ed.
RS
That's awesome.
DO
Yeah, I liked SFU. I didn't want to go to UBC. It was too big. Too...I don't know. I wanted something smaller where it was more intimate. So, in the '70s it was different. AQ 9001 was huge, right? And then, you get the small tutorials and all that. And then you had the upper levels, it was even smaller. Which I enjoyed. So, I did that. And I did PDP up there. In 1980 I started teaching. I taught in Delta for thirty-four years. Elementary. And then there, there were some Orientals, some Japanese people. And even in my classes...probably one or two? The rest were all Caucasian, or Indo-Canadian now. An interesting dilemma that happened in the '90s...one of the prescribed books was The Story of Mr. Ito or something, which is a paperback, which was prescribed by the ministry. And, so, at that time – because I was teaching that grade – it was one of the novels we had to teach. And we taught it. And in there, there are references to “Japs” and “Chinks” and things like that. And a Chinese parent complained four years after we had done it and we were put on the hot seat for it by the district and by the Nikkei Society for using it. And it was like, “Well, it was prescribed by the Ministry.” And it went back and forth, back and forth. It was like, “Oh my god.” It got really heated. And I think it's still on the ministry...I don't know if it still is or not. Maybe. But, I know they were trying to pull it.
01:15:08.000
01:15:08.000
DO
But it was historical in terms of what was said. What was good about it, I thought, was this is what racism was all about. This is how he dealt with it. This is how they dealt with it. And we taught to that moment, to be teaching them, to say those things now...you don't, right? I remember when our librarian got lambasted, I got lambasted, my teaching partner got lambasted, and Art Miki got involved in it. I remember that. It was like, “Wow, okay. Alright.” That was an interesting year. This was like four years after we had taught it, she complained about it. Why didn't know complain about it when we were doing it? She didn't, so.
RS
You're making the wheels turn for me. One of the goals, or perhaps, one of the future applications of what we learn from the wider information of this project is how to involve that in education. And coming from a teacher's perspective, I'm curious about what you think a good way – not only to teach to kids, but just fellow Canadians - to share this difficult part of history.
DO
Well...my last six, seven years I taught grade four, five. Five's curriculum is immigration and one of the things we did is we looked at the internment camps. That was one of the...well, we looked at the Sikhs how they came and what happened when they came. What I did was instead of doing it as one whole class, we broke it up into groups. So, you became Japanese, you became Chinese and you researched some treatment that they got. And then you did a report on it and to the class and everybody learned from it. It was interesting how some of the kids' perspectives changed of how as a country how we treated immigrants. And that particular year we were going through a huge influx of Indo-Canadians in our system and the tensions that were being caused by it. Some schools were now getting to eighty per cent. Not at the school I was at, but some schools were now close to ninety per cent. And how the non-Indo-Canadian people were leaving and flooding...they had their biases and were bringing them into other schools. And their parents were bringing it and I was like, “Oh, now you're creating tension in our school.” So, it was interesting for the kids to read about who were – because we had a whole mixture of kids – the treatment of immigrants and how it's Canadian, it's the government. How we treated them coming in. It was interesting how we could then – because it didn't just affect Japanese, it affected some of the Irish, the Irish had it different, but, we look at the Sikhs, the Italians, the Ukrainians, the Germans, Japanese, Chinese, Irish how they came and what kinds of things they experienced – so, we weren't specific targeting one race and making that the focus, we were looking at all of them. And then how each of them had their struggles. And then it was interesting how when the Japanese group came up, it was interesting how the discussion came out, “Why could they do it to Canadians?” You know, “Can they do it? And how could they do it, too?” And I talked about and it brought discussion. So, “Look at all you guys, okay?” so I've got some Indo-Canadians, “Where were you all born?” “We're all born here.” “So, do you think because something happens, we can take all the Indo-Canadians round them all up and do the exact same thing?” They're all like, “No.” And, “Yeah, it could still be done if somebody wanted to.” And then it goes on. So, I think it has to be taught. It has to be said.
01:20:16.000
01:20:16.000
DO
But, in grade five there's only so far you can go because their language and their ability to decipher...they get the gist of it, but they don't get the ramifications of it, right? Whereas, I think, in high school, maybe...more in depth and then the ramifications of it, you know? How people lost everything and started from scratch. There's more that, I think, they can adhere to and understand the ramifications. Whereas, grade five they got an understanding of it. Of our history.
RS
Much simpler understanding of fairness and that sort of thing.
DO
Yeah. But, it took almost three months to do that whole unit. And for them to understand it and then once one group presented, then we spent time talking about it. So, we weren't concentrating on just one thing that happened. We talked about everybody. I think you have to. I don't think you can make it as just one core. It has to be the history of all immigrants of this country. But, I think it has to be told. I mean, even, we were talking about The Head Tax, right? Kids didn't understand, so the next day we played a game. We played a game of “Blue eyes and brown eyes.” Well, they were so mad at me. But, that's how prejudice and things happened. Then, they understood.
RS
Hm. “Blue eyes and brown eyes”...that's from the German...did that game originate from...sorry, that's beside the point. I've heard of it before.
DO
What I did is I changed it, so between nine to recess, brown eyes got all the privileges. Blue eyes get nothing. And then we switched it and then we talked about it after. Interesting. Just couldn't really understand, because none of them have...you know, it's funny I tell my kids, “You guys have not gone through racism or being called, you know, names and things like that.” Whereas, me and my friend Jeff, Jim, we've been called...that. Even now, the guys that went to high school, we sit and talk and half of us are Orientals, the other half aren't. And we say, “You have never gone through what we have, you don't understand what we're saying.” Yeah, they get it now, but at that time... Oh god, I just remember when I was a kid, I hated being a “Chinaman” for some reason that really...and then it got to the point where they would make fun of me, they'd go, “Yeah, you Chinaman!” And I'd laugh at them and go, “Haha! I'm not Chinaman, I'm a Jap!” And walk away. And then that would get them. And then they thought, “Yeah, okay.” I remember that, I remember that happening the odd time. Some people made some racial slur and you'd go, “Ha! Too bad buddy.” Got the wrong goat.
RS
Was that more of a rare thing? Or did it happen quite often?
DO
It was a rare thing. You know, where I went to high school there was hardly any...it was interesting when we went and played across Main Street laughs, we went into the west side of Vancouver...then it became a bit of an issue because, I think, in those days people in the east side were all descendants of immigrants. So, everybody sort of had an idea of where everybody came from, so you really didn't – yeah, we made fun of each other – but it never crossed the line. Different times. Everybody got along more. Whereas now, it's a little bit different. In some places, it's tense.
01:25:20.000
01:25:20.000
RS
You mentioned your daughters. Maybe do you want to tell me a little bit about meeting your wife and having your kids and that part of your life?
DO
Well, okay. Well, my wife's white, so she's from Clinton, Cash Creek area. So, I met her there and then moved down here and we got married and we had two kids. It was interesting because I was a bit leery about my mom and dad, because I was not marrying a Japanese. Whereas, some of their friend's kids were marrying Japanese or some were marrying Chinese. But, to them, it wasn't a big deal. They just said as long as you're happy with her. And then when the girls were born, they were just tickled pink. They were just out of this world with it, so they were happy and fine with it. I think my grandfather wasn't, though. That I wasn't marrying Japanese. But, he wouldn't say anything. I think my mom could sense that he wasn't happy. But, then in another sense my mom would say, he wouldn't care because he worries more about Uncle Mich's family because he's going to carry on the family name, right? Then, Uncle Mich couldn't have kids and he adopted two girls and wouldn't have anything to do with it, in a sense, because they were both half Japanese, but they weren't his. And then when he had his son, then it was different. But, he was very traditional. Very, very traditional. Whereas, you know, my mom and dad were, “As long as they're happy.” They didn't care. They were their grandkids and that was the way it was. My mom just doted over them. The classic story is we were in Japan and we were at Shinjuku and we were going to go to Tokyo at a department store to go shopping. And we're standing by the front door and mom goes...she pulls out all of her change and gives Kiera a hundred, or whatever money, she gives Naomi money, she gives Janice money, she looks at me and she goes, “You don't get any.” Both laugh. She wanted them to go spend stuff on themselves, right? And yet, when we were in Japan my cousins didn't think anything of it...them being half Japanese. The kids, especially the kids their age, they just tried to communicate Japanese and English, so it was kind of fun. And Janice, the cousins on her side of the family, they don't think much of it. They kind of...it's funny because if we're having New Year's Day - we have the traditional Japanese New Year's – they want to come for it. We have some Seattle, so they come every year. They just die, they can't wait to come. Or, if we are going to a bazaar or something, if it's that day, they want to go. Or Powell Street Festival, they want to go. Because they don't have any of that in their background.
01:30:00.000
01:30:00.000
RS
So, the traditions are embraced quite a bit.
DO
We try. Well, it's interesting because Janice, my wife, does more. It's funny because when the girls were going to Japanese Language – because she was a stay-at-home-mom at that time – she was learning it with them. So, when we were in Japan she was like, “Oh, that's what that says.” Where, I can't even read it. But I can pick up if they're talking to me, I get the gist of the story, whereas they can't. But, they can read and write and Janice can pick up parts of it because she was with the girls when they were doing their homework. And then she will do some of the traditional things like Obon to remember mom and dad. We go and she wants to go. So, it's like that. She embraces it because I don't think there's much on her side like that and I think she understands it because she lost her parents at a younger age, so my kids don't know her parents at all. Never knew them. But, the only grandparents they know are mine, so there's that. So, they have all these Japanese things. Like that painting up there points to painting in home. She got her cousin to paint it.
RS
Really?
DO
Yeah. I had nothing to do with it. She wanted something.
RS
I think that's pretty special.
DO
Well, the big one...I don't know if you saw it... Both go to see painting
DO
She wanted something to represent the family, so she got her cousin to do it.
RS
Did the cousin just come up with it, or was there a family photo or cultural photo?
DO
Just her and her cousin started looking at pictures and decided. And it was like, that's our family crest point to crest in living room. And I think Janice took a picture over in Japan at the grave site, and for Christmas she got it printed at Costco.
RS
Did you have any special family moments or revelations when you went there? I find that, especially going to a place like a gravesite, can often muster reflection and that sort of thing.
DO
Well, when we go my dad was going to the gravesite, he said, “You know, you guys don't have to go.” We said, “Oh yeah, we want to go.” He says, “You don't want to go.” And I couldn't understand until later, his uncle wanted to always take his dad to see his mom and dad's bones. My dad just didn't think we wanted to, so we never did. We only saw my grandparents when mom took us to the one and she did the cleaning of the tombstone and it was like, “Whoa, okay.” You know, it brings back a lot of the heritage. But, it was interesting last time we were in Japan for me. I was getting tired just seeing Japanese people. I don't know...just to see Japanese was kind of getting...I need to see multicultural. I really missed the greenery, parks, and just trees. What I consider Stanley Park or even walking downtown you see trees on the boulevard and stuff like that. Or just school yards that had greenery because one of the things I did is I went to visit schools and it was like, “Wow, this is concrete.” So, I missed that. We were there two weeks and it was about day ten and I missed being here.
01:35:13.000
01:35:13.000
DO
So, it was kind of interesting for me. I'm always amazed at all the things that are there because it's so different. So modern and different. I just missed being home. Whereas the kids were...it was new and different, right? I always tell the story in Tokyo they were in the bathroom for forty-five minutes. I said, “What are you...you've got to be kidding me!” Because of the heated seats, the music, the spouting water. You don't see that here. The technology, right? Yeah, so Janice tries to keep a lot of it. She just wants to keep it alive because of my parents and for the girls, so it becomes part of their lives. And, I think, I have one other Japanese friend and his wife does the same thing. She's white, too. For their son. I figure it'll get assimilated into them somehow.
RS
I wanted to ask you if there any other stories or anything else you'd like to add that I haven't asked you about?
DO
I don't think so.
RS
Or if, sometimes participants have something that they want to say about – and I think we've touched on this through education and your perspective as a teacher – but, if you were to tell other fellow Canadians about the most important thing to learn from a project like this, or from a history like this...you know, what would that be?
DO
Well I think it's, for me, it's embrace your culture. Not forgetting where you come from. Even though what you think is kind of small, if you do it continually it enhances you. I mean, like I said, I have regrets not learning Japanese at times. And I was thinking, maybe, go as a mature student and take it. Then I realized when I did my P.E. plus fifteen, what a lousy student I am both laugh. But, no...just to embrace it, to learn from it, to accept it and I've always – and I think a lot of us who grew up from parents of immigrants – they were proud of their culture. And, I think, as I see it over time being an educator...I see kids who are now third and fourth generation have lost a little bit of that. So, it's important to try to keep it. And I think with our girls we're hoping, and I give credit to my wife, that with them. And when they have kids either we will, I will, or Janice will, or they will continue with some of those traditions. Even though it may not be a lot of it, but maybe one or two traditions. Even if it's just New Year's Day. The tradition of New Year's Day. The food and things like that. Because we used to do Girl's Day...we've got all the stuff for it, but we...it's something important. And I think now, having lost my parents, their memories, the details of their history, needs to be kept. Or, it needs to be memorialized somehow. Even one or two stories. For me, that's where I want to go.
RS
Okay. Well, since this weed whacker's interrupting anyways both laugh, I think I'll leave it there. Thank you so much for sharing so much of your family history and also so much of your own.
DO
Yeah, thank you.
01:40:45.000

Metadata

Title

Dennis Okada, interviewed by Rebeca Salas, 07 November 2016

Abstract

Dennis Okada shares his family history and parts of his own life story. He shares his father’s migration story to Canada from Hiroshima. Away from his family in Canada, his father, Raeso, made a life for himself as a child, starting as a houseboy in West Vancouver. When the war broke out, Raeso was sent to a logging camp. He thus logged in the Arrow Lakes area and laboured as a builder of some internment camps, such as Lemon Creek and New Denver. After the war ended, Raeso returned to the coast and eventually found a position at C T Takahashi in Vancouver. Dennis’ mother, Kazuko, is Canadian born but was sent to Hakone, Japan during the war time years for schooling. Dennis explains that his grandparents owned a grocery store in Vancouver at Davie and Seymour and were interned in Vernon, BC during the war. Dennis shares that his grandfather was a Shrimp Fisherman and lost his boat, while his grandmother was heavily involved in the Japanese Language School (and was for many years afterward). He speaks about family silence regarding the war time years, including how most stories did not come out without direct context of place (for example, New Denver internment camp). DeDennisnnis also explains that his mother eventually shared some stories about her own hardship in Japan during the war, including stories of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. He describes the personalities of his parents and grandparents, including their level of involvement in Japanese traditions. Dennis speaks about his own experiences with racism, segregation, and culture clash over his lifetime. He describes what life was life for him growing up in Vancouver. He shares his memories as a young student, a university student, and his own experience as a teacher of these complicated topics. He also describes what he perceived as his parents’ and grandparent’s feelings towards Redress were, and shares his own opinion on the apology and reparations in the ‘80s. Lastly, Dennis describes his own family’s attachment to and efforts to maintain their Japanese heritage – and, the utmost importance of these efforts.

Credits

Interviewer: Rebeca Salas
Interviewee: Dennis Okada
XML Encoder: Stewart Arneil
Publication Information: See Terms of Use for publication and licensing information.
Setting: Cloverdale
Keywords: Vancouver ; Japan ; Hiroshima ; Shrimp Fisherman; Lemon Creek ; New Denver ; Arrow Lakes; C T Takahashi; Japanese Language School; Powell Street ; Hastings Park ; Silence; Segregation; Immigration; Education; Apology; Redress ; Traditions; 1940-2016

Terminology

Readers of these historical materials will encounter derogatory references to Japanese Canadians and euphemisms used to obscure the intent and impacts of the internment and dispossession. While these are important realities of the history, the Landscapes of Injustice Research Collective urges users to carefully consider their own terminological choices in writing and speaking about this topic today as we confront past injustice. See our statement on terminology, and related sources here.